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'We are the fullest': Southlake lobbying to begin planning for new hospital

'Anyone who frequents Southlake will attest that it's a pretty crowded place. That's because there has been very little growth for almost 20 years, with the exception of the cancer centre,' says CEO Arden Krystal
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Southlake CEO Arden Krystal speaks about the need for a new location for a hospital building during a virtual town hall March 10.

Southlake Regional Health Centre wants to begin work this year on a brand new and larger hospital building to solve its chronic overcrowding problems.

After an unprecedented year dealing with the COVID-19, Southlake is eager to pick up where it left off in and is actively lobbying the provincial government for funding to allow it to begin the initial planning work required for the massive project. 

Even if one of the levels of government does provide that funding, it would be the better part of a decade before a new hospital is completed, said president and CEO Arden Krystal during the Newmarket hospital's virtual town hall Wednesday night. 

Building a new hospital is the only way for Southlake to meet the needs of an ever-growing community, she said.

"Anyone who frequents Southlake will attest that it's a pretty crowded place. That's because there has been very little growth for almost 20 years, with the exception of the cancer centre," said Krystal.

"We have some of the highest medical occupancies in the whole Greater Toronto Area. Out of our 21 Ontario peer hospitals, we are the fullest. We also have the highest number of unconventional or 'hallway' beds in the central region of the province. Many of our buildings are quite old, having been built in the '60s and '70s.  

"We live in a rapidly growing jurisdiction with one of the highest aging populations ... When we look at those things, it puts even more pressure on the existing pressures we have."

The hospital, needs to be bigger — much bigger, said Krystal, to meet current design standards. Southlake would need to 89 per cent larger than it already is to accommodate the beds it already has properly.

If Southlake is eventually approved to create a new building, it will need to find a new location away from its current one on Davis Drive. 

The current site isn't suitable for multiple reasons, according to Krystal.

"When we talk about that kind of growth, what has become very clear ... is that our existing location does not have enough acreage to manage that type of expansion. Even if we did have the acres we need, trying to build onto that campus would be incredibly difficult because of the geographical nuances of the site," she said. 

"For example, there is a water table on the site that poses challenges for underground parking. The buildings are so old that building onto them would cost more than a new building."

So the plan for a new hospital would likely be to create a new acute care centre elsewhere and maintain the current building as an ambulatory treatment centre.

All of this is contained in Southlake's hospital master plan, which was completed in 2019. Creating a master plan, said Krystal, is a necessary first step in convincing the government to approve the construction of a new building.

Southlake had hoped to get started on the project sooner, but the pandemic put any such plans on hold. With vaccinations underway and a third wave seemingly averted, the hospital is picking up where it left off by lobbying both the federal and provincial governments to put up the money to begin preliminary design work.

"We are hoping to get planning dollars this year to allow us to do a more detailed estimate of what would be required in terms of the size and scope of the building and land we would be required and what the bed spaces, in general, would look like," said Krystal. 

"We have been looking with all levels of government on this. We have a very supportive MP, but we have also been working with our municipal partners and the mayors. We have also been looking at capital grants from the Ministry of Health."